Granville County Teen Court begins new year of sessions

Jan. 10, 2014 @ 07:20 PM

OXFORD — Teen Court, an option for youth to make amends and avoid a criminal record, is about to get under way in Granville County for the new year.

Initiated in 2009 in Granville County, the sessions are held on the second and fourth Tuesdays at 6 p.m. at the county court house.

Charissa Puryear, coordinator for juvenile community service and restitution at the N.C. Cooperative Extension Granville County Center, coordinates the program. But she assured, it’s the adult and youth volunteers that make the program work.

“We’re always looking for volunteers,” Puryear said. “Youth volunteers fill all the roles: attorneys, jury, bailiff, clerk of court.”

They learn about the judicial system. The experience can be counted as community service to meet high school graduation requirements and is a valuable addition on college applications

The only adult actively involved in a court case is the judge, an actual judge or attorney.

Attorney and former District Court Judge Quon Bridges regularly fills the role of judge.

“He was instrumental in helping start the program,” Puryear said.

The program gives teenagers who have committed a misdemeanor the option of appearing in Teen Court rather than juvenile court. If they carry out the sentences decided by Teen Court, their offenses do not go on their records.

“These are real cases,” Bridges said. “They may have gotten into a fight at school. A teacher or law enforcement refers them to Teen Court. The young person is represented by a teenager as his defense attorney. The jury is made up of his peers.

“It’s a learning process, not only for the ones who are charged, but for all the young people involved.”

Adult volunteers monitor the jury and conduct exit interviews with the youth and their parents.

“They are the connection between the program and the family,” Puryear said.

Nancy Pifer has volunteered for a number of jobs in the program.

“I’ve been a jury monitor,” she said. “We can’t tell them what to do, but we help them stay focused.

“I also follow up with the students where they go to school to see if there’s anything they need and especially that they’re not getting into any more trouble,” she added. “I have a one-on-one. ‘How are you doing?’ Maybe they’re having trouble getting their community service and school work done.”

She said even the young people who got in trouble seem to enjoy it.

“It gives them some direction,” Pifer said.

This seems to be true, both for young people working as volunteers and defendants being tried in Teen Court.

Judia Watson, 18, was one of the youth volunteers. She began participating in Teen Court in the eighth grade and continued until she graduated from J.F. Webb High School.

“I worked first as a defense attorney and then became a permanent prosecuting attorney,” she recalled.

She said the severity of the sentences handed out by the Teen Court juries depended on many factors.

“The most we’ve ever given was where there were multiple charges and multiple sanctions,” Watson said. “It was like 50 hours of community service and $200.”

Watson is now a freshman at Western Carolina University, where she will major in criminal justice. She plans to go to law school. Teen Court turned her in that direction.

“This is what I want to do for the rest of my life,” she said.

Teen Court also has an impact on the young people who are tried and sentenced.

A 19-year-old, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he elected to go to Teen Court when he was charged with possession of a weapon on school grounds. His troubles with the law were just part of the difficulties he was experiencing. He also said he had been kicked out of his home before Puryear called.

He eventually received 18 hours of community service as a sentence, delivered meals to the elderly and did some yard work at community centers.

He said he got a second chance, and will soon be graduating from high school.

 

Contact the writer at dirvine@hendersondispatch.com.